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The Gati initiative is enabling mainstream Mumbai schools to provide high quality, inclusive education

When it comes to getting an education, children with disabilities in India battle multiple challenges. More than the disability itself, they find themselves marginalized by caste, gender, religion, poverty etc. Even those kids who do enrol rarely go beyond the primary level.

Little has been done in terms of funding or early intervention support given the scale. Early intervention is especially critical as this can help prevent negative consequences on the academic and life outcomes of the child going ahead in life.

Even among the schools that want to practice inclusion, there is lack of awareness about best practices, with the result that the needs of children with disabilities are often overlooked in the classroom. A gap that led Atma, a Mumbai-based non-profit, is trying to meet through Gati. Launched in late 2016, Gati is a consortium of schools and organizations driving inclusion. It seeks to increase awareness in mainstream affordable private and facilitate partnerships between schools and resource organizations.

Over three years of providing capacity-building support to 10 special schools, we realized the concrete need to consolidate and disseminate best practice in education for children with disabilities. Children with disabilities represented 15% of any classroom, and their needs were glaringly overlooked. Thus grew Atma's concerted focus on inclusion, and how schools - mainstream and segregated - can enhance their capacity to respond to diverse learning needs. - Krisstina Rao, Consultant, Consortium

Multiple approaches

From building awareness to conducting needs assessments to examine the level and quality of inclusion practice in schools to in-school support in curriculum, behaviour management, teacher training, and parent engagement, Gati is working to enable educators to achieve inclusion outcomes.

"Each of these goals have aspects of culture, policy and practice", adds Rao.

At present, 30 schools in Mumbai are part the Gati network and there are plans to replicate this for public schools in the long-term.

Among Gati's partner organizations is Inspirium Holistic Care, a child development centre that caters to kids with difficulties in processing sensory information.

"Large child to teacher ratios and lack of teacher sensitivity to variation in child behaviours and skill training to be inclusive appear to be the primary issues in my opinion", says Franzina Coutinho, Director, Inspirium Holistic Care . "Very often the class teacher is not trained in handling possible difficulties the child has and this may lead to labels. For example, a child who seeks movement and possibly has ADHD, is labelled the naughtiest child in class by the teacher and followed up by 40 kids in class repeating it. This definitely does not reinforce a sense of inclusion but causes the child to be isolated".

A large part of Gati team's effort is devoted to reaching out and address pertinent issues within the school system to improve learning outcomes. Inspirium's BIG (Better In-Class Gains) program is an example of that. It aims to improve learning by training teachers to use simple, quick occupational therapy techniques to respond to difficult behaviours or sensory needs of students.

The aim is to work together to find solutions that would work in a mainstream school set up - solutions that would work in different models. "Schools need specific services so how do you get multiple solutions to find address their needs, that is the challenge", says Sonali Saini, Director, Sol's ARC, a resource partner.

Based in Mumbai, Sol's ARC develops inclusive learning content and methodology to enable improved learning outcomes, improved retention and higher employability.

"Gati's role has been to bring more schools on the same platform and look at the needs of mainstream teachers and the challenges they face", says Saini. "Good teaching and good learning benefits all, even children with disabilities and once a teacher is attuned to meeting those needs, it is not difficult".

Gati is still in its first year of school partnership and so far has not tracked student-level outcomes. However, workshops have shown that there has been an increase in the perception regarding achievable inclusion. "The perception seems to be up by at least 12%, that's teachers being more confident in inclusion", says Rao.

Encouraging signs that could show the way forward towards making inclusive education a larger reality.

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